Buttonhole Heaven

Although buttonhole/blanket stitching can be used simply as a finishing stitch on the edges of felted appliques and such, it’s way more interesting to use it as a featured stitch.  It can be so pretty, why not take advantage of it?

This acorn came from cntrythreads’ flickr account.  I stitched it over last christmas when my husband and I visited his family in England.  I loved the traditional look of the original, and as soon as I saw the leaves, I knew exactly how I wanted it to look.

I did run into a small difficulty with it, where the buttonhole did not take to the very sharp curves in some of the corners.  The bottom of the stitch would pull towards the next stitch instead of laying flat.  I fixed it by tacking the base of the stitch at the worst bits with a single strand of the same thread.  The result was nearly perfect.  I left some of the less jagged pulls since I liked how organic it made the leaf feel.  (Look how terrible my stem stitch used to be!  I love looking at older pieces and seeing how much I have progressed.  I am currently doing an entire project in stem stitch, with mixed coloured threads and it looks super promising.)

After practicing a very closed buttonhole stitch in order to have a try at cutwork (unsuccessful, but I still have hope), I had a flash of inspiration: the stitch, with one side a bit more raised than the other, looked like the rims on barrels!  Don’t ask me how I came to this, my mind just works in funny ways sometimes.  After a quick search on google, I fell in love with the image on the right and decided to stitch it out.

Again, I ran into a few niggles: in some spots, my stitches were not quite as tight as they could be and left larger gaps (where the toxic waste could leak out!  Gasp!).  This was remarkably easy to fix, especially since the stiching was not structural.  I just added a straight stitch or two between the two arms of the offending stiches.  The look isn’t perfect, but I can honestly not see any to point out to you, so it must be good enough.

Here are two more patterns that I haven’t done yet but that I have been looking at in the last few months.  First is this blanket stitch sampler by Crafty modern on flickr and the second is Stag and Flowers by badbird on etsy.  The framing around the stag would be super fun to do in a thick threaded buttonhole stitch.  The options with buttonhole really open up once you enter the world of crewel, which I plan to talk about at a later date.  See you then.


Favourite Stitch: Buttonhole

I love buttonhole stitch (it’s also called a blanket stitch).  It’s so versatile that you can use it in any project, whether the look is modern or super traditional.  Barrels of toxic waste probably fit in the more modern category.

Traditionally, the key to a beautiful buttonhole is consistency of the size and width of each stitch.  I found a first and even sometimes now, it’s useful to trace out not only the line you will be stitching along, but also a second line for where you are hoping to have the top of the stitch finish.

Or you could draw four lines and end up with something funky like this, where the first row of spaced button hole starts on the bottom and goes up to the third, then the whole piece gets reversed and stitched between the previous stitches, again at the (new) first and third.  This makes a beautiful border with a straight edge on both sides.

Neither of these are as pretty as up-and-down buttonhole stitches though.  This stitch is an absolute wonder and is one of my favourites to doodle with since it can take a curve beautifully and is not at all hard to do once you manage to get it right a few times.  The stitch begins with a regular looking buttonhole, but a loop is formed at the bottom of each stitch, as if you were finishing off a row (see the last stitch in the first picture).  You come back up next to your tall leg, slide through the horizontal leg without taking up any fabric, and then you are able to start another regular style buttonhole stitch.

One day, when I have infinite time, I want to stitch a hardcore looking punk with a buttonhole mohawk.  If anyone knows where I can find infinite time to work on infinte projects, please let me know.  In the meantime, check out the post next week for some awesome patterns where you can use a buttonhole stitch to great effect.


Learning to Tat

I decided, some time last month, that I was going to try to learn to tat. Tatting is somewhat related to lace making, by way of crochet and magic. It is seriously complicated until you get the rhythm down, but once you do, it gets… No, it’s still pretty complicated.

I started with a shuttle, because I was enamored with videos of people shuttle tatting, the small piece of plastic seemingly gliding and sliding around in their hands, creating knotted wonders from nothing. I did not so much glide as drop like an angry bungee jumper. The shuttle would escape my hands, drop to the floor and pull the loop out of my hands; setting up again would be a disaster.

But then came the first massive stumbling block: the knot transfer. There is a trick to shuttle tatting where the knot needs to be around the shuttle thread, not the thread in your hand, even though you are knoting with the shuttle thread. If you do not perform this knot transfer perfectly (and perfectly ever time), you not only get a backwards loop of tatting, you can also not add any other loops, chains or anything to it. I practiced for over a week, making one little orphan loop after another, trying to figure out what I was doing wrong. I was technically making knots it a tatting like way, but I was not actually tatting.

So I decided to try needle tatting instead. There is a fabulous woman, TotusMel, who makes great tutorials over on instructionables. Her Learn Needle Tatting With My Flower Pendant video is extremely helpful. She goes slow enough at first to show you the basic stitches, and then manages to speed up enough to show you what kind of rhythm you can achieve once you get the hang of it. It is also nice to learn a new skill and have something pretty at the end of it.

I have made dozens of her flower pendant. I went to a cottage where there was not only no wifi, but it had no bloody electricity. I made flower pendants until it was too dark and I was a bit too tipsy to actually thread needles and do my knots properly (to be fair, it only took two drinks, I’m a lightweight). I made flower pendants on the dock, I made flower pendants in the boat, and I made them on the car ride back. Some of them twisted, some of them were too loose, some of them were too tight, and some just died in my hands, little knots without hope.

I think I’m getting then hang of it. I am now trying to learn TotusMel’s Needle Tatting Split Rings & Josephine Chains which is proving to be interesting.

I think the part that has been most frustrating was having some of my friends ask me what I was going to do with the mess of tatted flowers I was making. To them, anything I produced was pretty and needed to be treated as a piece of art, which is fair. To me, though, they were sketches, incomplete bits with little to no emotional attachment beyond trying to figure out why one of the loops was twisting crooked or why a chain had suddenly developed an extra picot. Crafting takes as much practice as other skills and not everything needs to be kept. If I am learning how to make brownies, I may have a few batches that are inedible. If I am learning how to write code in a new programming language, I am bound to created some stupid uncompilable piece of code. The failures do not have to be kept, but you do have keep what you have learned from them, which is the important part of practice.

When I created a tatted piece of work I would be glad to wear as a necklace or a pair of earrings, I want it to be as perfect as possible, and I want to know that I have done all I can do to make it that way.

Update: Chain Stitch

I’ve been practicing chain stitch this week, in anticipation of getting it to look fabulous when I go to do my Venus Fly Trap leaves.  Chain stitch has always been tough for me.  I tend to make them too long and stretched, so that instead of a small bubble or thread, I end up with something less than awesome.  I’ve watched Mary Corbet’s Chain Stitch Video Tutorial many times before, and although I had the basic technique down, it really took experimenting and time to get it right.

I tend to be stressed.  I tend to do tight, hardcore stitches, which totally doesn’t work with chain stitch.  You need to be relaxed, to let the stitches sit a little less than taut so it bubbles around the thread you’ve drawn up through the fabric, instead of stretching around it.

Since I was planning on doing a backstitch in it, it needed to be bubbly, darnit!  😉

I think  I have it down.  What I have figured out is that I always took up too much of the fabric when I was coming up.  All I really need is to step as far forward as I want the stitch to be wide. That way I end up with a round stitch instead of an elongated one. The first stitch I make always seems to end up longer than the later ones.  Know what I need?  More practice!

Doodling With A Needle

Shortly after I started doing embroidery, I read a review for Jacqueline Enthoven’s The Stitches of Creative Embroidery.  It sounded really interesting and I eventually found a copy of the 1964 book on etsy.  It didn’t have a dust jacket, the corners were a bit rough, and I loved it to bits.  I may review it in more detail at a later date, since the book is very well written and she provides many examples of samplers and creative finished pieces; what I want to talk about today is the introduction.

It is one of the most inspiring few pages I have ever read about embroidery, inspiring me to get better and showing me the way to do it.

Learn to doodle with a needle.  After you have learned or become reacquainted with a few stitches, play with them and see how you can vary them.  Lengthen them, shorten them, bring them closer together or farther apart, try thinner or heavier threads, and experiment with texture.  Once you have mastered a number of stitches, you will find that ideas for using them will come to you.  Before long, expression will blossom forth and you will know just what you want to do.  It will bring satisfying reward and even exhilaration. (Enthoven, The Stitches of Creative Embroidery, page 16. Reinhold, 1964.)

I don’t know how many bits and scraps of fabric I went through, trying to be my stem stitch to look less anemic, trying to get a buttonhole stitch to look even, testing whether I could ever, ever make a french knot without stabbing myself in the leg.  I threw most of them out, keeping a few of them around because they had a pretty set of up and down buttonhole or maybe a nice chunk of satin stitch.  Doodling and trying stuff out has become a relaxing endeavor, something to do while watching The Kids in the Hall for the umpteenth time.

I recently commissioned (and I by that I mean asked very nicely and bought her a few coffees) another pencil drawing from my sister in the same vein as the Button Octopus.  This time, I wanted a crewel-inspired Venus fly trap.  Once I am finished it, I will definitely share it here, along with the pattern.

I traced out her design twice, and for two days while I was at a cottage (with no electricity or wifi, I am still not sure how I survived!) I tried a few different things, read the latest Inspirations magazine and plotted how my venus fly traps would look.  I settles on a rather simple stem stitch shading on the stems, but went with a chain stitch/back stitch combination I read about in Inspirations; it’s the stitch on the furthest left edge of the filled in fly trap leaf.  It’s a regular chain stitch, which has a back stitch overlapping over the edge of each chain.  I think it’s lovely and will have a really cool effect if I use my colours carefully.  That said, chain stitch has never been my forte which means: more practice!  I need to practice getting them small, getting them even and most importantly not getting them too damn tight that it turns into a single line with no dimension.  Netflix and Kids in the Hall, here I come.

PS: which tendrils do you like best?  The long french knots make for a cool effect but the sharp little Vs on the right hand side are so sharp and controlled, I kinda like them too.  Decisions decisions!